Vitamin D links to MS supported by study

Michelle Henderson, AAP National Medical

Scientists have moved a step closer to understanding how to better treat multiple sclerosis (MS) after more evidence emerged of a crucial link to vitamin D.

In the latest study, University of Tasmania researchers discovered that MS sufferers treated with interferon-beta, a common MS drug, had higher vitamin D levels than those not on the treatment.

Interferon-beta caused patients to become far more efficient at making vitamin D in their skin, senior researcher Professor Bruce Taylor said.

MS sufferers taking the drug had nearly three times as much vitamin D from the same amounts of sun exposure than those who didn’t take interferon-beta, he said.

The results also shed light on how the therapy works, which has previously been unclear although it was thought to effect the immune system.

Interferon-beta only reduced the risk of having an MS attack if patients had sufficient levels of vitamin D in their system, Prof Taylor said.

MS sufferers in Tasmania and other areas of low latitude, where it was impossible to absorb enough vitamin D from sunlight in winter, may need to consider vitamin D supplementation, he said.

The study analysed around 200 people living with MS in southern Tasmanian between 2002 and 2005.

The research was instigated by the high rates of MS in the state, Prof Taylor said. The condition is more common in populations living further from the equator.

Tasmanians are seven times more likely to have MS than people in Northern Queensland and the Northern Territory and rates are three times higher than in NSW, Prof Taylor said.

He said the findings would need to be tested further in clinical trials.

However, the discovery will also be examined in an upcoming Australian study investigating the effect of taking vitamin D supplements on people with early MS symptoms.

That research will be carried out between 2012 and 2016 by MS Research Australia and the Florey Neuroscience Institutes in Melbourne.

“Hopefully, there will be a major public health initiative in the future about how to treat or prevent MS,” Prof Taylor told AAP.

The study was published in the journal Neurology.

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